Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I'll Get A New Start, Live The Life I Should ( Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia "Wharf Rat")

This is the time of year known as March Madness, a cultural phenomenon based upon participating in and watching the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball tournament. Over the course of three weekends 68 university teams, their students, their boosters, and their respective alumni all begin the tournament with dreams of a national championship. For people who like watching basketball, it is a glorious time of year, a sacred time of year. It is a time of year that has sacred locations: the arenas in which these games are played culminating in Dallas where the Final Four and the Championship game will be played in a couple of weeks. It is a time of year marked by sacred time: from the opening tip of the first game to the final buzzer of the last game. In our home, our kids have learned about United States geography (learning the location of numerous universities) as well as team colors and mascots (guiding principles in determining our daughter’s tournament bracket picks). During the course of these basketball games there are usually several human interest stories at play which contribute to the drama of the game. Sometimes these human interest stories lead to incredibly touching moments that take on an aura of holiness and sanctity which transcend the game itself. One such moment occurred at the end of Creighton University vs. Baylor University basketball game. With Baylor leading by approximately 30 points and only a couple of minutes to play; Doug McDermott was taken out of the game. Dougie McDermott (aka Dougie McBuckets) is the best player in Creighton’s history, is one of a handful of university basketball players in the history of the game to finish his college career with more than 3000 points, and it so happens that his father is the Creighton head coach. So when his dad took Dougie out of the game, he wanted his son to receive the recognition due to one of the “best ever”. Sure the standing ovation was nice, even touching but not sacred. When Dougie walked off the court to the standing ovation, he walked over to his father with his head held high and tears in his eyes. Then father and son hugged the kind of hug that every father and son wish for themselves.  For all those who saw it, this was a special hug, this was a significant hug, and this was a hug that evoked sanctity and holiness. After the game, the son was asked about walking off the court and hugging his father, the head coach. The son offered a poignant response, alluding to the idea that this was the last time that he would ever walk off a basketball court with his father waiting for him on the sidelines. Clearly, both father and son were aware that this hug was going to occur at some point during March Madness. Despite this awareness; when the moment finally arrived, the hug was neither diminished in warmth, in emotion nor in its sanctity. Like anything that achieves holiness, even in the most physical of moments, such as a hug between a father and son at the conclusion of college basketball career, that sacred moment has the power to remind us of our own mortality, our own fragility and our desire for sanctity.
This week’s Torah portion is Parsha Tazria. Parsha Tazria concentrates upon how impurity, spiritual impurity is passed between people. The majority of the Parsha focuses upon Leprosy as it was considered to be a very physically contagious disease. Parsha Tazria puts the diagnosis, the treatment and the convalescence in spiritual terms rather than physical terms. We learn that the while this Tumah, this spiritual impurity is present, the stricken individual cannot reside within the camp. After all God dwells in the camp and we cannot tolerate any impurity near God.
However, prior to its discussion of Leprosy, Parsha Tazria outlines the somewhat troubling laws concerning impurity in childbirth. Fundamentally, the notion of impurity relates to coming into contact with that which is dead. In Parsha Shemini, Torah outlined impurities that come from dead animals. In this Parsha we are reminded that a Mother is touched by death during the miracle of childbirth.  Isha Ki Tazria V’Yalda Zachar V’Tamah Shivat Yamim Kimei Nitdat Dotah TitmahWhen a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be contaminated for a seven day period as during the days of her separation infirmity shall she be contaminated. (Lev. 12:2). Imagine becoming spiritually impure after being blessed by the miracle of childbirth. Yet, this new mother lost blood; she lost some aspect her life force during the birth process. As a result, while simultaneously being touched by a new life, she is also touched by her own mortality.
Perhaps there is no more an intense moment than when a new mother, physically exhausted and spent, holds the newborn. The Rabbis of the Talmud teach that surviving childbirth is an equivalent to a near death experience and saying Birkat HaGomeil is therefore required.(Praised are You, Lord Our God, King of the universe who graciously bestows favor upon the undeserving, even as He has bestowed favor upon me.) Inherent to surviving a near death experience is the notion that the individual as come precipitously close to death. Even in miracle of life, we are reminded of its fragility.  Even in death, we are reminded that we are forever striving towards elevated levels of holiness. In the most physical moments, and certainly childbirth is quite a physical endeavor, we are reminded that it is our spiritual task to elevate that physical moment into a spiritually holy moment as well. As we bless our children on this Shabbat, may we be reminded that in every moment, we have the opportunity to strive towards spiritual purity, and spiritual holiness.

Rav Yitz

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